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Draper still working as hard as ever

by Larry Wigge

Not many players, if any, will ever be accused of outworking Detroit Red Wings forward Kris Draper WATCH Kris Draper in action
PITTSBURGH -- No one will ever outwork center Kris Draper, even if he just turned 37 the day after this year's Stanley Cup Final began.

Draper's energetic. He's quick and dangerous, on offense or defense. And he's a leader. Pretty much the entire package.

"You talk about leaders ... a player who is like a man in motion out there ... that's Kris Draper," said Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom.

"He's relentless," Darren McCarty said. "I'd say he's the pulse ... the heartbeat. He's what makes everything go. No one works harder than Drapes. If you give him a defensive assignment, he'll make it like hand-to-hand combat out there. Anything to neutralize the opponent."

Most important, he's worth a lot more than the $1 the Detroit Red Wings spent to get him in a waiver trade from the Winnipeg Jets back on June 30, 1993.

Think about that statement for a moment. Draper cost the Red Wings less than a cup of coffee at Dunkin' Donuts or a two-liter bottle of Pepsi.

And yet, in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, Draper won 13 of 19 faceoffs and was a plus-3, he followed that with two hits and one blocked shot and more important faceoff wins in Game 2 and added five more hits and 8 of 12 faceoff wins in Game 3.

Nothing ever seems to get old to this vintage Toronto, Ontario, native.

"Every time I've been to one of these, there's been something different," he said before Wednesday's 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh that cut the Red Wings' lead to 2-1 in the series. "I love the competition. The battles. The teamwork. Honestly, it feels almost like this is my first time because my other kids are old enough now to know what's going on and they're always asking questions. Lots of questions. It's kind of neat. Kienan wanted to know the other day if daddy would be coming home with a new scar of more stitches.

"Kennedi is 8 and is in the second grade and Kienan is 6 and is in kindergarten. They were at Game 1. But mom made them go to sleep after the second period of Game 2 because they had school the next day. If I had anything to do with it, they'd be at all of the games.

"It's funny how they will wake up in the morning after a road game and ask, 'Did the Red Wings win?' When we won Game 6 against Dallas, my son's reaction was, 'Cool, we're going to the Stanley Cup.' Anytime you go to the Stanley Cup it's a huge thrill, but to able to have my kids cheer along has been really special."

And this first week of the Final has even been more than just that.

"Beating Dallas, getting ourselves into the Stanley Cup Final again, the birth of my daughter, my birthday, her coming home," he said. "It's been unbelievable in the Draper household."

The newest addition to that household is Kamryn, born two days before Game 1 of the Final. Draper celebrated his birthday and a victory in Game 1. And that day, Draper's wife, Julie, brought their daughter home for the first time.

To say that Kris Draper still plays like a kid wouldn't be too far from true. He certainly plays like a frisky 20-something.

"I wonder if the Jets ever got that dollar?" Draper laughed, before adding, "If they did, it was probably Canadian."

Red Wings Senior Vice President Jimmy Devellano said the other day, with a wink, "I'm pretty sure we actually did send them a check."

There was a smile on Draper's face as he began to tell the story of his first game in a Red Wings uniform -- way back on Jan. 24, 1994.

"I was checking into the Pontchartrain Hotel after being called up from Adirondack," he said. "I remember standing at the counter with my bags, waiting for the clerk to find my name. 'Oh, yes, Mr. Draper, with the Detroit Red Wings.' "

Kris was feeling pretty good, until the clerk added, "'We have you checking in today ... and checking out tomorrow.' "

His jaw dropped. The sound of being in Detroit temporarily only scared Kris Draper for a moment. Then, it charged him up.

As we know, he's been a Wing ever since. A leader and driving force in Detroit.

There's another date -- May 29, 1996 -- that Draper would just as soon forget. It was Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals against the Colorado Avalanche. The Wings trailed in Game 6, 1-0, and in the series 3-2.

Draper remembered how he loved those distortion mirrors, the kind at amusement parks and circuses, when he was a kid in Toronto. But when he looked into a mirror inside the dressing room at McNichols Arena in Denver late that night, he knew something was very wrong.

His right cheek was swollen badly. His right eye looked like a black-and-blue balloon, closing shut rapidly. His whole face looked like it had just gone 15 rounds with, well, Joe Louis.

He thought to himself, "Oh my God, I've turned into Frankenstein."

All of the damage came as the result of the infamous check from behind by Colorado winger Claude Lemieux, which sent Draper barreling head-first into the boards after winning the race for a loose puck with 5:53 left in the first period.

Now, however, Kris Draper is out to make more positive memories after following that gruesome hit with Stanley Cups in 1997, '98 and 2002.

Kennedi and Kienan were both horrified and yet excited when they woke up to find daddy home from Game 6 in Dallas in the Western Conference Finals and heading for the Stanley Cup Final. The one problem, daddy had six stitches to close a gash in his lower lip and a brace to hold the three teeth that were hit, after Dallas Drake's centering pass deflected off Stars goaltender Marty Turco and then off Draper's chin and into the net for the first of three first-period goals in a 4-1 series-clinching win.

"It went off my chin and went in," Draper said proudly. "Who cares? It crossed the line. Just say I got a lot of teeth in that one."

In the meantime, "I can't chew. I talk with a lisp and all it seems I can get down is milk."

Don't worry about those things. Not when the pulse ... the heartbeat ... of the Red Wings is still ticking.

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